The late Charlie Hebdo editor, murdered two days after completing this book, speaks about self-censorship, oppression, and religious zealotry.
France has no direct equivalent of the First Amendment, and so a satirical publication such as Charlie is subject to attack on all sides, official and otherwise. Catholic clerics blustered against the magazine as much as any imam did, while the ruling government, which treats France like “a salami that the Socialist Party has the annoying tendency of slicing up into special-interest groups,” was never quick to defend Charlie’s right to be a gadfly. So writes “Charb” Charbonnier, who is quick to assert his atheism and leftism and to stick it to whatever deity one wishes to propose: to be a believer, he insists, is “above all, to fear,” while a God with the powers ascribed to him “is big enough to take care of himself” and does not require the interventions of mullahs or bishops. Charb’s nose-tweaking sometimes drifts into the juvenile, obscuring his more serious message: namely, that people who hate Islam really hate Muslims. As a thought experiment, he invites us to consider who would lose his job first, a European convert to Islam or an Arab immigrant—and that bigotry is bigotry no matter whom it is directed against. Professing irritated amusement with the spectacle of death threats being issued against cartoonists, Charb takes on “God’s wingnuts,” a vision of a supreme being as someone who is “mean as fuck and dumb as a plank,” and “a few purportedly Muslim wackos” with gleeful abandon, even as he acknowledges—and as events proved—how dangerous his stance is. The logic is sometimes wobbly: to criticize Charlie is not necessarily to side with radical Islam any more than criticizing America, contra Bush, meant siding with al-Qaida. And, being so brief, the book is cursory, sometimes too much so.
Nevertheless, this is a welcome and necessary essay in provocation—a lively, readable hornet-stirring in defense of free expression.